Updated: Jul 17, 2022
The story that is told in Helaman 10 is so sacred that I dare not explore it in public. Instead, I'd like to muse about an untold story, also sacred, that is particularly meaningful to me: the story of Nephi's wife.
For reasons bound up in the redemptive wisdom of God, "herstory" is hidden in the Book of Mormon. But that doesn't mean it isn't there. It just takes careful reading.
Nephi's wife first enters my awareness at Helaman 10:12. She had a name, but we don't know it. So, for convenience and clarity, without meaning to diminish her individuality, I'll be calling her Sister Nephi.
She and her husband have just been through a particularly trying experience. A few hours ago, Nephi was taken from her home, bound, and dragged off to be falsely arraigned before conspirators for the murder of their chief judge.
It's hard to put myself in her place or to imagine what she's going through. For context, she is caring for at least two and possibly more children, Nephi and Timothy, of whom the eldest is no more than 16. (It's possible to establish their approximate ages by going back through the family history. In about the year 74 BC, Alma called his son Helaman a youth (Alma 37:35) while entrusting him with the sacred record. If Helaman was 20 at the time and had a one-year-old son, that son, Helaman II, would have been 23 when he himself was charged with the plates in about 52 BC. Suppose his son Nephi was 5 at the time. Nephi would have then been18 when his father, Helaman II, died and he ascended to the judgment seat around 39 BC. Supposing his eldest, Nephi, was born as early as two years later, at 37 BC, he could have been as old as 16 by now. Timothy and any other children would probably have been younger.)
The first time this verse struck me, I imagined Sister Nephi at home. And I imagined her worried. I imagined Nephi heading back to the comfort of her arms, grieving over the hardheartedness of his people, when the voice of the Lord came and Nephi was granted the sealing power. And Nephi "did stop and did not go unto his own house, but did return unto the multitudes".
Nephi's sacrifice here is palpable. But what about hers? And what does his not returning to his own house tell us about her?
Nephi could not have made that sacrifice at her expense, or at his children's. They must have been willing too. Otherwise, his first stewardship would have been to his family. He would have needed to check in, to secure them, and then to carry on in his outward ministry. But they didn't need to be secured because she was already on sure ground. She had the capacity to surrender her husband into the hands of the Lord and then to be okay...even when his life was in danger.
She was able to let him go, not only then, but during multiple previous missions where, again, his life was in danger. And she didn't resent it. How do we know? Partly, because Nephi didn't need to go home. And also, because his sons, Nephi and Timothy, were raised to minister mightily. She did most of that raising. First, her husband was chief judge of a contentious people. Then, their oldest would have been under the age of eight when Nephi gave up the judgment seat and went on a mission to the Lamanites. After that, he came home and went to preach in the land northward, where he was gone long enough to be shocked by the state of affairs when he got back to Zarahemla. He wasn't home much. And she raised boys with such faith that disbelievers couldn't doubt their words and angels ministered to them daily, that had courage to be stoned for their convictions and power to raise the dead.
She was mighty.
On this reading, though, an alternate possibility has occurred to me. That is that Sister Nephi may not have needed to remain home after her husband was dragged to judgement. Her faithful sons were old enough and secure enough to care for any younger siblings. And she may have been able to follow, to be among the multitude at the place of judgment.
This scenario has her at Nephi's side when the voice of the Lord came. I know the scriptures say Nephi was left alone by the multitude, but I'm inclined to think the Book of Mormon record doesn't count wives as company.
Consider the commendation that the Lord gives to Nephi, and how appropriately it could have been applied to her:
"Blessed art thou, Sister Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness nurtured the word, which I have given unto thee, unto thy people. And thou hast not feared this people, and hast not sought thine own life or thine husband's, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments.
"And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will" (my additions in italics).
In this scenario, the commendation of the Lord and the granting of sacred powers doesn't just come to Nephi. It comes to them both, but only Nephi's experience is recorded. And then, Nephi goes to the unbelieving multitudes, wielding godly power in complete harmony with the will of God to testify of God's goodness and the good news of repentance through Jesus Christ. Sister Nephi goes home to their children, in the same harmony with God, wielding the same power and testifying of the same good news.
To me, this scenario makes the most sense because, as I understand it, the highest order of the priesthood is celestial marriage (D&C 131:2), and I believe that the sealing power, as Nephi received it, belongs to that order.
Whichever scenario comes closest to reality, here is what I know: our Father in Heaven's daughters are in no way disadvantaged in receiving and exercising godly power for the salvation of souls. We and our brothers may have differing roles and primary venues for our labors, but men and women are equal partners in the work of God and equally endowed with His power. And this is what I hope: if I am faithful in the very specific work that God has entrusted to me, if I am fearless and unselfish and unwearying because I am motivated by love of Him and of His children, the day will come when the promises He gave to Nephi will also be entrusted to me. The same holds for all my sisters.